American History Recommendations


#1

Hello to all of my friends south of the border.

Can any of you fine people recommend good resources on the American Civil War? I was going to post this over in the 3MA forums but I figured I would poll Waypoint instead. I’m looking for books, documentaries, movies, pretty much anything I can consume as a deep dive to learn about the Civil War.

Here in Canada we briefly touch on it in our history classes but it really isn’t taught in depth. We have plenty of conflicts of our own, but we have never had a full blown civil war and it is just something I have a hard time understanding. Further, I find myself watching what is happening down south with more and more apprehension as time goes by so I am looking to history to try and find some context.

Beyond the Civil War I would love to hear your recommendations for other must learn American History.

Thanks for your time and consideration and I look forward to your responses!

On a related historical note, I just finished the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman and it is one of the best, most entertaining, most thorough histories of the first chapter of WW1 that I have ever read. Definitely recommend.


#2

Were you looking for a general overview of the war or were you interested in a specific topic?

The only reason I ask is because there are a lot of books written on various subtopics of the Civil War. It sort of sounds like you want an overall portrait, but I just want to make sure.


#3

The Dogsarecool Essential Civil War Reading List:

Battle Cry Of Freedom. If you gotta read just one, read this.

Follow up with

Grant by Ron Chernow
Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee by Elizabeth Pryor.

Then fill in the gaps with Du Bois and Eric Foner.


#4

I’m not sure if it’s offered on Canadian Netflix, but Ken Burns has a pretty good documentary. I’d say it doesn’t go in depth enough in some places I would like it too, it focuses more on people. I think it does a really good job.

There is also a Ken Burns produced (?) documentary called the west. It goes from before the colonies to the death of the wild west. It’s really good, but I found it a tad depressing. There are a lot of sad stories or native Americans, pioneers, homesteaders, gold miners.


#5

Watch Gettysburg, and its sequel, then stop thinking about the War any further like all real 'Muricans do. (That was a joke. Please don’t this.)

The Atlantic published a Civil War issue with many essays, stories, and retrospectives, including one by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Speaking of Coates, his old Atlantic blogs on Ulysses S Grant are still up. As is the essay “What This Cruel War Was Over,” which quotes the leaders of the Confederacy to show that, yes, it was about slavery. And there’s this: “5 Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War.” The list is: McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, Chernow’s Grant (the same author who wrote Hamilton), Pryor’s Reading the Man, Glymph’s Out of the House of Bondage, and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.

Coates also recommends reading Grant’s memoirs, Du Bois, Harriet Jacobs, Eric Foner, and Bruce Levine. I lean on Coates a lot because he’s excellent at pinpointing authors and historians who don’t further Lost Cause mythologizing (~side eyes the movie Gettysburg~).

If you want an overview of Reconstruction that doesn’t include white supremacist revisionism (because you’ll have to be mindful of that), I recommend Kenneth Stampp’s The Era of Reconstruction.

James Oakes’ Freedom National is a book about emancipation and the Civil War I’ve not read, but it has recommendations by McPherson and Foner.

There’s also Uncivil, a Civil War podcast by journalist Jack Hitt and Rutgers professor Chenjerai Kumanyika about the “stories left out of the official story” (e.g. tales of espionage).

My final recommendation is Bruce Catton’s A Stillness at Appomattox.


#6

I’m not much of a history buff, but I’ve been reading “Stamped From the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” and it is fascinating. (It’ll probably dovetail really well with any Civil War books you check out.) You get a nice overview of American history through the author’s lense of looking at race. It’s especially good for learning the genesis of ideas still around today that I’m used to taking for granted.

Side note: as a Southerner (Tennessee), I grew up with history books referring to it as “The War of Northern Aggression” and a LOT of apologists =/ Thankfully, I learned otherwise (and my ancestors fought for the North haha) but there is concerted disinformation down here. I have “Battle Cry of Freedom” on my shelf and need to read it sometime.

Also, another non-Civil war book that I would recommend: “Eight Flavors: The Story of American Cuisine”. …I realize that this is a cooking book, but reading through it I learned a lot about immigration to the US, trade dynamics, and what the culture was like in different periods. It’s great at building an understanding of the culture of a time in a way different from reading straight history. Also, the recipes are fire.


#7

You are correct. I am looking for a general overview to start with. I have a loose understanding but want a broad review of the big hits.


#8

Anything by Ira Berlin for Civil War

beyond civil war but still dealing with fall out-
Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World by David Brion Davis

Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality (Critical Perspectives on Empire) by Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds

Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Women in Culture and Society) by Gail Bederman

Defying Disfranchisement: Black Voting Rights Activism in the Jim Crow South, 1890-1908 by • Riser R. Volney

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. by Isabel Wilkerson

At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance- a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle L. McGuire

Outside of America but WWI based:
Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins


#9

This thread is yet another reason why the forums need some sort of Rob Zacny signal to light when in need of history miscellanea.


#10

In the general American History category, I’d recommend reading A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.


#11

Thanks for all of these great recommendations. I’ll do some research and make a decision soon.

@Blackie62 That’s why I was originally going to post in the 3 Moves Ahead Forums. I think we should petition for a @RobZacny history/tactics red telephone type situation. What I really want is a Troy Goodfellow approved reading list.

@AstronaughtE accessing American Netflix is a proud Canadian tradition. I’m sure I won’t have any trouble. Most of what I know about the states I have learned from Ken Burns.


#12

To pull up on this extremely point, I’d highly recommend Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. It contains a brief overview of the Civil War as part of its advance forward, but is almost entirely about the post-war effects, which, honestly, I’d say are just as important as the war itself. The war created a new world out of the ruins of the old, which casts a shadow back on the war itself. If you want to understand why the Civil War has the place in U.S. history it does, you have to understand Reconstruction, Redemption, and the Gilded Age.

Foner’s book was released in 1984 but, as far as I’m aware, is still the definitive book on this. It really is a total and broad narrative, looking at the entire U.S. in different perspectives and negotiating with the sheer complexity of factions, micro-factions, and internal strife. It’s a good way to get your head around the post-Civil War context, which was so formative for a lot of Civil War discourse.

(P.S. This may make my recommendation less potent, but I am from the UK, not the U.S.!)


#13

I think you’ve made a really important distinction. I am interested in the Civil War from a military history point of view but what I am really looking for is an overview and something to contextualize it to the world we live in today. I think I will seek out Foner’s book first!


#14

There are so many good recommendations in here. Goodness. As a Civil War nerd this is like heaven.

Here is a unique one written by one of my old professors: Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom by Peter Kolchin.
While not strictly about the Civil War, it does take a look at one of the defining factors of what caused it and then compares it to Russian serfdom. It’s really pretty fascinating.

And I actually just finished this one: Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne.
This is a good point of reference of one of the greater military minds who fought for the Confederacy. This one is really a pageturner.